Grant to help purchase former store slated for 2022

By Barbie Porter


The Vergas Economic Development Authority took notes and advice from a leader in a nearby community. 

During the monthly meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 6, Kurt Keena of the Detroit Lakes HRA provided insight on how the group may find success in future projects.

Prior to serving in Detroit Lakes Keena served in Hastings, Minn. and noted the focus was different between the towns. In Hastings the focus was with the historic downtown and keeping buildings viable and occupied, whereas in Detroit Lakes his focus is specific to residential housing. He added there is an EDA that focus on business development and enhancement.

Keena said the success of both city groups had to do with setting goals every year or two, and having the goals be specific.

“When we failed to plan and prioritize we didn’t get much done,” he said. “When we were very specific and created a plan and priorities we knew where to focus our resources and staff and stuff got done.”

When asked what the goals of Vergas should be, member Bruce Albright, who is also on the council, said his would be to increase the residential base and housing opportunities. He believed the need for housing additions in the city may included rentals, senior living and starter homes.

On the business side of things, Albright said he thought the most pressing issue with the topic of a grocery store being brought to the community.

Keena said building new residential rental units may be challenging for the EDA, as he wasn’t sure the city would be competitive enough to receive financial assistance due to the size and budget of the city. 

“Creating new is a big nut to crack,” he said and suggested the EDA instead focus their time on preserving  the existing residential units. He recommended the city contact the Otter Tail County HRA for potential financial opportunities.

Vergas City Clerk Julie Lammers said the city and EDA have worked with the county HRA, and in the past, provided grant opportunities to residents and businesses to rehabilitate structures. She added the grants were utilized, but it has been about six years. 

“So we can look at that again in two years,” she said. “And that is something we may want to review.” 

Keena also suggested the city reach out to Perham’s burgeoning industry and consider teaming with them for residential opportunities, as their employees need places to live.

Albright noted the EDA should create a plan for a new development and future growth. 

File photo
The Vergas Economic Development Authority aims to develop a plan for the former grocery store building and apply for a grant in 2022.

“If someone wanted to build six new houses, where do they go?” Albright asked, noting the city is surrounded by private land. “Or, if a business wanted to come in and build, where do they build? We need to sit and take a look at that.”

EDA member Vanessa Perry said the group has been focused on the potential purchase of the former grocery store, but she felt it was more imperative to tackle the lack of housing opportunities.

“I’ve heard that a lot and people are constantly asking for rentals or information on houses that are for sale,” she said.

Keena said one avenue to help spur residential development would be for the group to obtain property and make that available to lower the barrier for building to happen.

It was noted the city recently installed city utilities in a new development, as well as a road.  The empty lots lining the road could be used to fill a variety of needs, from single family homes to an apartment.

“When we failed to plan and prioritize we didn’t get much done. When we were very specific and created a plan and priorities we knew where to focus our resources and staff and stuff got done.”

Kurt Keena

Keena said purchasing land and pursuing a developer always comes with a risk, as it is not guaranteed to happen in the immediate future, or at all. However, he added some risk needs to be taken otherwise it is “hard to move the needle.”  

EDA member Kevin Zitzow said the group should also consider focusing on increasing community support and the group’s agenda, once a plan is created.

“I feel like we can tip either way right now, and we need to go the right way,” he said.

The group agreed to each write three goals for the EDA and three for the HRA to review at the next meeting. From there the group plans to prioritize.

EDA puts brakes on former supermarket purchase

Lammers informed the EDA that to be considered for a grant to help purchase the former supermarket building, a complete plan would need to be formulated. The application is due at the end of February. She added if they did not meet the February deadline the next application opportunity would be in 2022.

The grant would require a full plan, as far as if the building would be removed or rehabilitated and what the plan would be for businesses to go into the building.

“I don’t think we have a clue what direction to go with that yet,” Perry said. “And I don’t think we can come up with a plan in that short amount of time.”

Zitzow asked if a purchase price was amicable to both parties, to which Lammers stated she had not heard anything further to suggested a price was agreed upon.

Zitzow said next month the group should prioritize starting to work on a plan, as it may take 13 months.

In other news

• The EDA agreed to hold its monthly meetings in 2021 at 9 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the month

• Is looking for a new member. Any interested party should contact the city office at (218) 342-2091.